KATDASHIANS! BREAK THE MUSICAL!

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Kreated by Bob and Tobly McSmith

Directed by  John Duff

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that the Kardashians have cemented their place in the pop iconography of our time. Famous for being famous, the internet-breaking first family of reality TV represents both the worst and the best of who we are as a culture. The intelligentsia bemoans the fact that a once-credible news media is now dominated by headlines like “Caitlyn Jenner in Malibu as she fails to wish Khloe Kardashian a happy birthday (Daily Mail, June 28, 2016). But there’s positive flipside to the American obsession with the rich and famous. Celebrities – even the ones who have achieved notoriety without exhibiting any special talent or drive – are dear to us for a reason. People like Kim, Kris and Khloe are proof positive that, with a little luck, anybody – no, seriously, anybody – can make it in America.

With this duality in mind, the latest “kreation” from the mischievous minds of Bob and Tobly McSmith both ruthlessly mocks the Kardashian phenomenon and wallows in the sheer wonderful tackiness of it all. Sporting outfits reminiscent of a burlesque edition of CATS an energetic kast sings, dances, twerks and chatters its way through a musical retelling of the exploits of Kim Katdashian (Carmen Mendoza) and her clan. Kim is known mostly as the daughter of one of O.J. Simpson’s attorneys until she makes a sex tape that catapults her to stardom in her own right. Seeking to capitalize on Kim’s success, Kris Katdasashian (Bailey Nolan) becomes the “momager” to Kim and her sisters: vacant Kourtney (Bridget Kennedy), and sex-obsessed Khloe (Elliott Brooks). Their reality show proves immensely popular, with ratings bait provided by the motley assortment of men in their lives. Kris’s husband, gold medalist Bruce Jenner, (Peter Smith) seems perpetually discontented (until of course, he undergoes his transformation into Catlyn). Khloe’s husband Lamar (represented onstage by a basketball), has a penchant for partying, while Kourtney’s boyfriend Scott (played by a hand puppet) is usually AWOL. Kim marries Katye West (who unfortunately remains offstage) and becomes a robotic automaton under his commanding influence. Rounding out the menagerie are little brother Rob Katdashian (Tobly McSmith), and conniving half-siblings Kylie and Kendal Jenner (Viva Soudan and Ariel Ash).

Thanks to some clever writing and an ensemble of gifted mimics, the lampoon lands much more effectively than SNL’s shots at the same broad target. There are a few inside jokes that only hardcore fans will appreciate, but even those of us who haven’t kept up with the Kardashians will get most of the japes. Over the course of two largely plotless acts, though, the evening’s sketch-like concept gets stretched rather thin. The material would be better served at a trimmer length and without an intermission. Even so, John Duff’s molto allegro directorial style and, Bailey Nolan’s booty-enhancing kostumes and Viva Soudan’s sexy Khoreography help keep the energy high. Assaf Gleizner’s arrangements of re-imagined pop and Broadway hits adds extra zest to the parody.

KATDASHIANS! BREAK THE MUSICAL! kontinues through July 30, 2016 at Elektra Theater, 300 West 43rd Street (and 8th Avenue), Time Square, NYC.

Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/959824

 

WOMEN ON THE EDGE… Unsung Heroines of The Trojan War

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Choreographed by Pascal Rioult

Based on the Trojan War plays of Euripides

Music performed by Uptown Philharmonic under the direction of Kyle Ritenauer

Blending modern and ancient elements, choreographer Pascal Rioult turns his attention to the mythic narrative of Trojan War, specifically the female protagonists around whom many of the stories revolve. Fear not, you don’t have to have total recall of the Euripides you read back in college. Program notes provide synopses of the plays. Better still,  Kathleen Turner, clad strikingly in black, recites excerpts from the classic texts in her well-known sonorous voice. The potency of the spoken lines – startlingly modern in their economy and rhythmic punch – adds immeasurably to the atmosphere.

Expanding on the work of his mentor, Martha Graham, Rioult moves his athletic, graceful dancers in patterns of contraction and release. Energy builds in the performers’ coiled bodies, then springs into dynamic spirals. With the aid of Pilar Limosner’s painterly costumes and Jim French and David Finley’s mood-enhancing lighting design, the production echoes the fluid lines and dramatic poses found in ancient Greek illustrations of the rituals, battles and betrothals of the Hellenic era.

In Iphigenia the eponymous heroine (Catherine Cooch), grows from a playful filly to the young bride of the warrior Achilles. Unfortunately, a different altar awaits her as the gods command her father Agamemnon (Brian Flynn) to sacrifice her. Her mother Clytemnestra (Marianna Tsartolia) puts up a fight, but it soon becomes clear that, without some Olympian aid, the Greeks will lose the battle with Troy. Ultimately both mother and daughter accept the inevitable, and Iphigenia is honored by her nation in a darkly festive ritual as she goes to her death. Michael Torke’s music captures the theme of innocence shattered by war, while Cooch’s coltish vitality and magnetic stage presence underscore the story’s fatalistic poignance.  

A more meditative tone animates On Distant Shores. Composer Aaron Jay Kernis adds a touch of the ethereal, as Helen of Troy (Charis Haines) stands before a bank of moving clouds (one version of the myth has it that a “phantom Helen”, fashioned out of clouds, traveled to Troy with Paris while the real queen stayed home in Sparta). Both worshipped as a beauty and reviled as the cause of the war, Helen can only express her true self in solitude. Haines’s delicate features and regal bearing bring a weary dignity to the internal struggle of a woman cursed with fame: appalled by blood spilled in her name, yet unable to stop the carnage.

The most searing of the three pieces, Cassandra’s Curse plunges headlong into the carnage of war and the sorrows of its aftermath. Backed by the forceful strains of Richard Danielpour’s turbulent music, the prescient princess of Troy (Sara E. Seger) is haunted by dreadful visions of bloodshed and destruction. But her apathetic countrymen, believing that the Greeks have given up their siege, are too busy partying to pay attention. As Cassandra has predicted, though, the  wooden horse, given as a gift from the Greeks, turns out to be ruse. When night falls, soldiers emerge from the belly of the beast and slaughter the sleeping Trojans. The surviving women are taken captive, with Cassandra herself awarded to Agamemnon as a concubine. Seger gives a haunting performance as the terrified soothsayer, while the ensemble vibrantly embodies the decadent, dreaming city and the violence with which the illusion of peace is brought to an end. Conceptually, though, the piece comes dangerously close to overselling its relevance. The dancers appear in modern dress, and video projections show images of modern cities besieged by war. Luckily, projection designer Brian Clifford Beasley handles the task with sensitivity and chooses colors and compositions that dovetail well with the dance. Ultimately, though, the device seems unnecessary. The terpsichore speaks for itself without any added context.

RIOULT DANCE NEW YORK continues through June 26, 2016 at the Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave, New York, NY 10011. Tickets (212) 691-9740.

THE HEALING

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photo by Carol Rosegg

Written by Samuel D. Hunter

Directed by Stella Powell-Jones

In a premise reminiscent of The Big Chill, THE HEALING follows the a group of friends who reunite to mourn the untimely death of one of their pack.  Laura (Mary Theresa Archibold), Sharon (Shannon Devido), and Donald (David Harrell), Bonnie (Jamie Petrone) now live in different parts of the country and occupy disparate professions. But they have a few things in common; they are each have a disability of one kind or another, and they all went to the same Christian camp when they were kids.  As the mourners gather in the tchotchke-laden house of the deceased (designed with meticulous quirkiness by Jason Simms), the inevitable questions arise. What would cause Zoe, to want to take her own life? What does this mean for the survivors?

Through flashbacks we learn that Sharon tried to help Zoe (Pamela Sabaugh) with her physical and mental afflictions, but had little success. Zoe was a dedicated Christian Scientist who insisted on trying to pray the blues away rather than seek treatment.  This is a big button pusher for Sharon, who still harbors resentments towards Joan (Lynne Lipton), the director of the camp they all attended all those years ago. Also a believer in faith healing, Joan tried to brainwash the kids into believing that their condition was abnormal and ugly, and that divine intervention could make it all go away.

It’s an awful message to force feed children. Yet the question of whether Joan’s behavior truly scarred the kid’s psyches remains unresolved. Most of them, as grownups, seem to be resilient, independent people who lead reasonably fulfilling lives. The ones, like Zoe, that succumb to melancholia, can hardly point to summer camp as the sole source of their pain. Bonnie’s boyfriend Greg (John McGinty), the one outsider in the group, is rightly puzzled by the fact the kids kept coming back to the camp year after year, that their parents never sought to intervene. He receives little in the way of clarification.

Thus Joan begins to feel like a red herring. The real question is whether there’s enough common ground for the former campers to be part of each other’s adult lives.  They also seem to be avoiding the natural impulse to reassess their own lives after the sudden death of someone their own age.  Playwright Samuel D. Hunter does an admiral job of populating his world with likable, true-to-life characters, but he’d get more present-tense energy out of them if he’d the let them the blame game aside and try to harder to reach each other.  Similarly, director Stella Powell-Jones keeps the actors emotionally grounded and keyed into one another, but could stand to prune some of the awkward pauses and move the action forward with greater surety.

Despite its stagnant beats, though, THE HEALING does spark an intriguing debate as to whether religion helps or hurts those in need, and whether “cold stark atheism” is the only alternative to blind faith. The show also provides an introduction to the Theater Breaking Through Barriers ensemble, many of whom are talented writers and directors in their own right. For more commentary, humor and performances by performing artists with disabilities, click on the links below.

THE HEALING continues through July 16, 2016 at the Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036. Tickets (212) 239-6200.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBRiZ4MFWZY

http://iaintplayin.wix.com/andscene

https://www.youtube.com/user/shannonleigh327

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHa6XylKeCg

http://davidharrellonline.com/reels/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mfQhD4SQ0c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=010E5OUck2I

 

 

 

HERO’S WELCOME

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Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn

In an era when words like “searing”, “innovative” and “immersive” leap from the pages of theatrical press releases, it’s encouraging to see that, in the right hands, a traditional, well-made, problem play can still move audiences and speak to present day social issues. Although HERO’S WELCOME rarely feels forced or inorganic, all the architectural underpinnings of classic drama are here. The fourth wall remains in place the entire time, an inciting incident causes conflict among people with a shared history. Guns, introduced in the first act, are duly discharged in the second as per Chekhov’s famous rule. In tone, however, the play is refreshingly unlike its Naturalist forebears. Even when writer/director is Alan Ayckbourn allows very bad things to happen to his characters, he does so with a spontaneity and tender eccentricity that keeps the evening from becoming a downer.

After serving with distinction in an overseas military campaign, decorated soldier Murray (Richard Stacey) is the toast of the media. The official story has it that Murray and his men rescued a group of children from a school that was under siege. As is often the case with war, though, the confusion of battle has left Murray uncertain as to what actually happened that day. Eager to return to civilian domesticity, Murray returns to his home town in the north of England accompanied by his new wife Madrababacascabuna, “Baba” for short, (Evelyn Hoskins). Here, the hero’s welcome he receives is tempered by old resentments. Town mayor Alice (Elizabeth Boag), dutifully conducts a ritual in Murray’s honor, but clearly she hasn’t forgotten that when Murray departed abruptly 17 years ago, he left a mess behind. The details of that mess gradually emerge as Baba and Murray attempt to put down roots. They plan to reopen the shuttered hotel owned by Murray’s family (wryly named the Bird of Prey in a nod to the symbolic seagulls and wild ducks of yesteryear), and turn it into a going concern. Not so fast. As it turns out, Murray’s bankrupt dad couldn’t keep up the payments, and the inn now belongs to the city council. Nothing can happen without Alice’s help, and she’s determined to demolish the dilapidated structure to make way for up-market retailers and luxury apartments. Another person with whom Murray has some unfinished business is upper class cad Brad (Stephen Billington). Formerly Murray’s best friend, Brad has always felt inferior—so much so that he aims to settle the score by attempting to seduce Baba. As past wounds are reopened, present –day relationships are put to the test. Barbara’s well-meaning husband Derek (Russell Dixon) is an eternal schoolboy, more adept at building model train stations than sorting out relationships. Brad uses his wife Kara (Charlotte Harwood) as a verbal punching bag— until a final straw awakens her darker impulses. In the ensuing conflagration, Murray is forced to decide if he should stand his ground at home or leave town under cover of night as he did all those years ago.

In much the same way as he builds a script, Ayckbourn directs with an unhurried, confident baton. The ensemble, all superbly cast, navigate the quirky turns of the plot authenticity and intelligence. The physical demeanor of the actors underlines the character’s disparate trajectories, as the longtime residents of the town seem both wearier and more surefooted on their home turf than the prodigal Murray. Like her budding command of English, Baba’s first eager steps into this class war battlefield are shaky, but grow stronger as she gets the lay of the land. Michael Holt’s economic sets and costume neatly embody the characters’ social strata  and personal priorities.

At 77,  Ayckbourn continues to develop artistically, expanding on the humanistic wit that distinguished his earlier work. And with maturity comes a lighter touch, and an understanding that home is where the heroism is.

HERO’S WELCOME continues through July 3, 2016 at 59E59 Theaters. 59 East 59th Street, New York, New York.10022 Tickets: http://www.59e59.org/boxoffice.php

RADIANT VERMIN

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By Philip Ridley

Directed by David Mercatali

As building and loan president Peter Bailey memorably declares in It’s a Wonderful Life, “It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace”. If Pa Bailey were in the audience for RADIANT VERMIN, he’d be pleased to see that the primal desire for one’s own home, and the willingness to sacrifice for it, is still a driving element of civilized society. He might not be so delighted to discover that, in today’s competitive housing market, the homesteading instinct is mingled with that other deep-in-the-race phenomenon: the capacity for mass murder. If playwright Philip Ridley is to be believed, things have gotten so bad these days that people literally have to kill to secure a place among the middle class.

Expecting their first child, Jill (Scarlett Alice Johnson), and Ollie (Sean Michael Verey) are desperate to move out of their high-crime neighborhood. But the search for an affordable home proves daunting. A seemingly miraculous solution arrives in the form of a letter from the charismatic Miss Dee (Debra Baker), a representative of a mysterious new government housing initiative. Ollie and Jill will have a home of their own, and it’s all free! The only catch, it appears, is that the house needs work and is not located in a prime location. Seeing as Ollie has a knack for home improvement, and that gentrification is likely to occur in the near future, these problems don’t seem insurmountable. There is, however, something a bit creepy about the whole affair. Miss Dee knows an awful lot of personal detail about Ollie and Jill and has an uncanny ability to play on their insecurities. Nevertheless, Ollie and Jill take the deal, roughing it for the first few days without electricity and running water. Things change one dark night when Ollie confronts an intruder in the kitchen. A scuffle follows and the trespasser, a homeless man, is killed.  Ollie panics, but his worry doesn’t last long. The body disappears in a swarm of fairy lights and voila! The kitchen is suddenly- and magnificently- renovated. Apparently the rules of this magical realm work thusly: when a vagrant is murdered, the spot in which he dies undergoes an instant metamorphosis into a state-of-the art, newly refurbished room. Other “renovations” follow, as Jill and Ollie begin using disguises and lies to lure unsuspecting transients into their home for a quick execution. At one point Jill befriends Kay (also played by Baker in an impressive transformation), whose tragic life story puts a human face on the undesired homeless population. Yet even this touching encounter changes nothing. Compassion, apparently, is no match for a shiny new lavatory.

The young couple’s scheming and rationalizing is bitingly droll up to a point, but after Jill and Ollie have lost their souls there’s nowhere for the plot to go. In an effort to furnish the play with a satisfying climax, a good deal of stage time is devoted to a manic garden party in which neighbors gather to admire the new improvements to the house. Johnson and Verey are remarkable (and exhausting) to watch as they morph with lightning speed from one character to another. Despite their energy, though, the story spins its wheels for too long before the denouement arrives. David Mercatali’s direction is clear and brisk, and it’s fun to see the normally somber Ridley exploring his comedic side. But the satire here seems unfocused. To be sure, the rampant consumerism of today’ society is a deserving target for ridicule, but that alone is not enough to fill a full length play.

Perhaps something is lost in the cultural translation. For Americans, still reeling from the recent housing crisis, homeowners don’t seem like the bad guys. We’ve seen far too many Jills and Ollies forced into homelessness themselves, their Wonderful Lives derailed by a badly mismanaged economic system. Given that context, RADIANT VERMIN’s faintly Marxist indictment of bourgeois aspirations is bold enough to grab our attention, but not to hold it for 90 minutes. Trading the show’s sketch comedy-like caricatures for more multidimensional protagonists would give it more theatrical substance- and help its social criticism land more forcefully.

RADIANT VERMIN continues through July 3, 2016 at 59E59 Theaters. 59 East 59th Street, New York, New York.10022 Tickets: http://www.59e59.org/boxoffice.php